At the recent Eurogamer Expo, developer Media Molecule held a ‘Developer Session’ about their upcoming title LittleBigPlanet 2. During that session, I’m not afraid to say that my mind was blown several times: seeing the team build a level in real-time, right in front of my eyes, was utterly astounding. Immediately, it seemed clear that I should grab one of the ‘Molecules’ (as they aptly refer to themselves) and interview them about the upcoming game.
Then I realized that, to me, Media Molecule is so much more than one guy who’s making a game. It’s about a group of people who love what they’re doing, and love their community. With that in mind, I tracked down co-founder Alex Evans, and Community Manager James Spafford, and sat down with them for over half an hour, to talk about games, journalism, and a littleBig bit about LittleBigPlanet 2. Here’s Part One — Enjoy.
Game Rant: If there’s one thing I’ve always found appealing about Media Molecule, it’s the way that each member of the team seems to have a distinct voice and personality. However, in the games journalism space, a lot of those voices tend to get lost in the fray; after all, it’s much easier to refer to ‘Media Molecule, creators of LittleBigPlanet‘, as opposed to ‘Alex Evans, Co-founder of Media Molecule, creators of LittleBigPlanet‘. It’s a shame that each person’s unique, individual voice is often lost; do you think that, some day, we will be able to recognize characters and personalities by name, and be able to learn more about individual developers through documentation of their work processes?
Alex Evans: “That’s why we [in office] came up with the ‘Friday Feature’. Originally, it was because we have some shy people in the office; I’m a big mouth, he [James Spafford] is a big mouth… *Looks at James* Ok, you’re a medium mouth, I’m a big mouth.”
James Spafford: “Well, I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t have…”
AE: “Ok, you’ve got a big mouth. In fact, you’ve probably got a massive mouth. Anyway, there are people who are shy, but who do amazing work. And, it’s like you’re saying, we don’t document it, and they don’t shout about it. So the ‘Friday Feature’ is basically a time where everyone has to show off what they’ve been doing that week, and at the end of the day, it’s brilliant, because it means you just play the game. And that part would be worth documenting, because you get to follow each person’s idea through to the final product.”
GR: That’s exactly what I’d like to see. Take, for example, your presentation earlier today. The way it was so integrated into the community/audience, and the way it was being built, I think there is a niche for people who want to see what the game developers are doing. Obviously, a lot of people make games, but only a few are very well-known. I think there is a gap for that ‘human story’. You know, sort of like ‘Spaff’s Diary for Friday 1st’.
JS: “Well, I wouldn’t read my diary. *Laughs*”
AE: “I mean, I love reading that stuff as well. I’ve always dreamed about being in the games industry and making games, and I actually got into [the industry] because of a joke with a friend of mine. We were playing ‘Syndicate Wars’… No, not ‘Syndicate Wars’, the original ‘Syndicate’ — which was a good game, and…”
GR: Which platform was that on?
JS: “Amiga, wasn’t it?”
AE: “No, it was on PC; this was like 1994…”
GR: Well, remember I was born in ’93, so… *laughs*
JS: “Crazy. *laughs*”
AE: “Right! Well, around the time you were born, I was playing a game called ‘Syndicate’ at my friend’s house, and I was doing my GCSEs (exams that British teenagers take at 16 years old) at the time. He said to me “I bet you can’t get a job at Bullfrog”, Peter Molyneux’s first company, and I said “I bet I can!
“So I phoned up Directory inquiries, then and there, and I said “Can I have the number for Bullfrog?” I phoned them, but I hadn’t got a plan and they picked up… — “Hello, Bullfrog!” and I was like “Uh, uh, I’m doing a GCSE project on games, uh, can I come in and do a summer job?!” and they told me “We’re expanding at the moment, so come in and have an interview.” I was really lucky. So I went in, and every summer since… Well.”
JS: “*Laughs* Including this Summer?”
AE: “Hah, well, including this summer, I’ve been going back to Bullfrog, and then it became Lionhead, and then EA for a bit. Then I graduated from university — so fast forward five years — and um, got a job! All through that process, I’ve loved reading about the people who make games, about Peter…
“In either ‘Amiga format’ or ‘ST format’ (British magazines), they ran a feature called ‘Make Games The Bullfrog Way’, and the cover disc came with code for Bullfrog’s sprite routines — this was some old school stuff. And I love the fact that, now, ‘LittleBigPlanet’ is doing that for the next generation of people. We hired loads of people from the community, and I love that you don’t turn on your PS3 now just to consume, although that’s pretty much what I do — I like playing a DVD or a Blu-ray — but now, some people who’ve got the urge to make something can actually do that on their PS3. Sorry, I get excited!”
GR: No, no, not at all! James, how about you? How did you get into the industry, to where you are now?
JS: “Uh, well, mine’s kind of mixed with a lot of stuff. When I was maybe 16 or so, I made a fansite for Lucasarts adventure games, and it was rubbish. It was actually for ‘Monkey Island’, and it was really terrible — it had really bad Gifs on it and stuff — but that like evolved into this huge Lucasarts community. That’s where I got the taste for community management, and in the meantime, I also got a job as a tester…
“And then I founded a site called ‘Idle Thumbs’, which is a kind of weird, cult, gaming site with lots of editorials and strange personalities, which has gone through many phases: it’s lived and died, and lived and died many times, but the main reason it died was because every single person who worked on it went and got real jobs in the industry.”
AE: “It’s a victim of its own success.”